The independent news organization of Duke University

Extra point: Duke football falls to Kansas and its efficient offense

Sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard threw for 324 yards while avoiding any interceptions.
Sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard threw for 324 yards while avoiding any interceptions.

Duke football lost its first game of the season to a surging offensive performance by Kansas. The Blue Zone breaks down the Blue Devils' contest by looking at three key takeaways and stats, as well as a look ahead:

Three key takeaways:

1. Field goals, not touchdowns

Twice in the first half, the Blue Devils had to settle for field goals in response to a Jayhawk touchdown. Their inability to reach the end zone caused them to fall behind by eight at halftime. This added pressure to sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard and the Duke offense, forcing them to repeatedly attempt fourth-down conversions in their own territory. Duke had not struggled to keep up with the opposing team’s offense until now, and this game served as a reality check heading into its conference schedule.

2. Trouble containing the quarterback

The Blue Devils likely knew that limiting Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels would not be an easy task. The junior star averaged 189 passing yards and 79 rushing yards in his first three games. These impressive numbers continued against Duke, as he threw for 324 yards and ran for 83. The Blue Devils could not seem to stop Daniels from leading Kansas down the field, as he had the same number of touchdown passes as incompletions—four. With only one sack against the Jayhawks, Duke needs to find a way to pressure the quarterback to see success in ACC play.

3. Leonard continues to shine

Despite Duke’s struggles, Leonard turned in another strong performance. The sophomore threw for 324 yards while avoiding any interceptions. These numbers are even more impressive considering he was battling against a quarterback as talented as Daniels. Leonard matched Daniels' play for much of the game and kept Duke in the game even as the defense struggled. He continues to show strides in adjusting on the fly when plays break down, and he was Duke’s leading rusher with 54 yards. This is an excellent sign for the Blue Devils’ future, as Leonard is poised to lead the team for years to come. 

Three key stats

1. 23 first downs

Both the Blue Devils and the Jayhawks had 23 first downs in the game. This shows that Duke was not overwhelmed by the Kansas offense but rather could not convert drives into touchdowns nearly as efficiently. Duke’s offense continues to be its strength, but Leonard and the rest of the offense need to get better at finding the end zone.

2. 10 third downs

Kansas only had 10 third downs the entire game, converting on six of them. If Duke wants to succeed moving forward, it must put the opposing offense in more high-pressure situations. Daniels and the Jayhawks seemed at ease on the field, picking apart the Blue Devils at will. The defense was plagued by missed tackles, causing the difference between a win and a loss.

3. One touchdown reception

Senior Blue Devil receiver Jalon Calhoun caught his first touchdown of the season. The team leader in receiving yards finally found the end zone in the fourth quarter on a 27-yard pass from Leonard. Calhoun appears to be Leonard’s favorite target alongside sophomore Jordan Moore, as the receivers totaled 12 catches together Saturday. The pair’s continued chemistry with Leonard bodes well for Duke moving forward. 

Looking forward:

Duke opens ACC play at home Oct. 1 against Virginia. The Cavaliers are 2-2 on the season, with losses against Illinois and Syracuse. The Blue Devils look to build off of a primarily successful nonconference schedule and improve on last year’s winless performance in the ACC. Keep an eye out for continued success from Leonard and positive progress on the defensive side.

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